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Chad Finn | Unconventional Review

The Patriots’ demoralizing playoff loss — one of their worst ever — left plenty to question, and plenty to fix

The Patriots' 47-17 loss to the Bills in the AFC Wild Card went down as the worst of Bill Belichick's coaching tenure in New England.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and story lines from the Patriots’ most recent game . . .

Had the whole second half to think about this, to consider and reconsider, and so I’m confident this is true:

The Patriots’ 47-17 loss to the Bills Saturday night is the most embarrassing playoff loss of Bill Belichick’s 22 years in charge.

For a dozen years, that dishonor belonged to the 2009 Patriots, who gave up an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage and fell behind, 24-0, in the first quarter in their 33-14 loss to the Ravens in the wild-card round.


What happened Saturday night was worse. It was a total no-show by the defense, hopeless almost from the beginning. Josh Allen and the Bills broke whatever spirit the Patriots had in the first half, then ground it into dust just for the sport of it.

The Patriots’ defense, which over the past month has borne a striking resemblance to the overrated 2019 “Boogeymen,” couldn’t have stopped Allen if they’d been allowed to put their entire defensive depth chart on the field at once.

The Bills scored touchdowns on their first seven drives. They did not turn over the ball, need to convert a fourth down, kick a field goal, or punt. In fact, the Bills have not punted against the Patriots since the 13:59 mark of the third quarter of the first of their three meetings this season.

The Patriots fans’ wish that all of the shortcomings and bad habits that recurred during their 1-3 finish to the regular season ended up going unfulfilled. They fell behind early, again. They struggled to stop the run, again. They committed undisciplined penalties, again. They did (insert whatever dumb thing that we’ve seen all too often lately), again.


The Bills ran it up on them, as is their prerogative considering the Patriots have made them eat a lot of dirt over the years. Allen remained in to throw a touchdown pass to lineman Tommy Doyle to make it 47-10 in the fourth quarter, and there was not a damn thing the Patriots could do about it.

It turned out that the team we saw over the last month of the season, excepting that rout of the Jaguars, was who they were. There’s plenty of hope with this franchise. But there’s plenty to question, and plenty to fix, as well. The Bills, viciously and with glee, showed them just how much.

Some further thoughts, upon immediate review . . .

Mac Jones was one of the few Patriots to have some positive moments on Saturday.Adrian Kraus/Associated Press


(Players suggested in Unconventional Review: Damien Harris, Matthew Judon, Cole Beasley)

Mac Jones: I mean, he was a player worth watching at least as far as Patriots go. This list is slim, people. Jones finished 24 of 38 for 232 yards, two second-half touchdown passes to Kendrick Bourne, and a pair of interceptions. The Patriots, in somewhat of a surprise, came out throwing on their first possession — six times, while there were three running plays — and it should have worked. Brandon Bolden had an inexcusable drop with open field ahead of him, and Jones really couldn’t have made a much better throw on Micah Hyde’s end-zone interception. This is probably a sign of how bad things were going in the first half, but Jones was their leading rusher at halftime with 18 yards. He has established chemistry with Jakobi Meyers, Bourne (who never stopped battling Saturday), and Hunter Henry. We’ve got the whole offseason to talk about getting Jones another trustworthy weapon or two. But at least we know the Patriots have a promising, determined young quarterback. He was far from perfect, but this was not on him.


Dawson Knox: The Bills tight end, whose production this season almost mirrored Henry’s for the Patriots, hadn’t done much in the teams’ previous two meetings, catching a total of four passes for 25 yards and a touchdown. He blew past that production Saturday night, catching all five of his targets for 89 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was the first Bill to find the end zone, making a leaping catch of an Allen toss that evoked at least a flickering resemblance to “The Catch,” Joe Montana’s legendary lofted touchdown pass to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship game. Knox collected his second touchdown before the first quarter was over, catching an 11-yard dart from Allen to put the Bills up, 14-0, with 40 seconds left in the quarter. And when it was all over but the frostbite, Knox torched J.C. Jackson for a 38-yarder in the fourth.

Devin Singletary: Like Knox, he hadn’t done much against the Patriots in the previous two meetings, totaling 75 rushing yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. But Saturday, Singletary ran like vengeance was on his mind, gaining 81 yards on 16 carries. In the second quarter, he scored the Bills’ third and fourth touchdowns, the first a 3-yard run to cap a drive in which he touched the ball on the last five plays, and the second coming on an impressive 16-yard run to cap a rapid-fire, four-play, 89-yard drive.



All of it. Is all of it an acceptable answer? All right, fine, we’ll narrow it down to the first time the Patriots had the ball, when there was still some hope to be snuffed out. That opening possession offered a charcuterie board of familiar aggravations and mistakes. Already trailing, 7-0, Gunner Olszewski took the kick out of the end zone all the way to … the 13-yard line. Not what you’re looking for there. On the third play of the possession, fullback Jakob Johnson was called for a false start, and on what might have been an interesting play: Michael Onwenu was on the field as an extra lineman, suggesting a run, but Jones dropped back to pass. The biggest mistake came when Bolden beat linebacker A.J. Klein, but watched the pass ricochet off his hands. A couple of plays later, Jones went deep to Nelson Agholor down the left sideline, but the receiver waited for the ball to come to him, and Bills safety Hyde made an outstanding play to intercept the pass.

Saturday was the Josh Allen show, as the Patriots had no answer for the Bills' star quarterback.Joshua Bessex/Associated Press


Josh Allen against everything the Patriots threw at him

The final stats are phenomenal: 21 completions in 25 attempts, 308 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 6 carries for 66 yards. The Bills totaled 482 yards, and averaged a ridiculous 8.9 yards per play. And yet I’m not sure the statistics do the thoroughness of his destruction of the Patriots’ defense justice. Allen looked like the varsity quarterback playing a pickup game against a mediocre Pop Warner team. He looked like a bigger, stronger-armed, righthanded Steve Young, or maybe the evolution of John Elway. The Patriots were so scared of him running and scared of him throwing deep that he had the underneath throw wide open almost every time he dropped back. Sometimes he took it. And sometimes he threw a perfect touch-pass, sometimes he threw a rocket 25 yards into his receiver’s sternum, and sometimes he ran past Patriots linebackers just because he could. This is a quarterback capable of winning a Super Bowl, right now.



The Patriots had to abandon the run to some degree after falling behind early, but it’s still curious how little they used Rhamondre Stevenson. He had just one carry in the first half and eight for the game, most coming in garbage time … Let’s just say Joejuan Williams was a significant downgrade from Jalen Mills (missed the game because of COVID-19 protocols) and leave it at that … First priority in the draft (hey, it is just three months away): speed at linebacker.

More Patriots coverage

Patriots’ defense simply overmatched and overwhelmed by Bills

It was a rough ending, but it’s only just the beginning for Patriots quarterback Mac Jones

Just how bad was the Patriots’ loss to the Bills? Here’s where it ranks in the history books.

‘They were too much for us tonight.’ Bill Belichick praises Bills after rout of Patriots in playoffs

▪ As it happened: Patriots lose to Bills, 47-17, in one of the worst playoff defeats in franchise history

Chad Finn can be reached at Follow him @GlobeChadFinn.